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Recent studies have demonstrated that protein C deficiency is associated with recurrent familial thrombosis. In plasma, activated protein C functions as an anticoagulant. This anticoagulant response requires a vitamin K-dependent plasma protein cofactor, referred to as protein S. Since the anticoagulant activity of activated protein C is dependent on protein S, we hypothesized that patients lacking functional protein S might have associated thrombotic disease. Two related individuals with otherwise normal coagulation tests are described whose plasma is not effectively anticoagulated with activated protein C. Addition of purified human protein S to their plasma restores a normal anticoagulant response to activated protein C. We have developed a rapid one-stage clotting assay for protein S to quantitate the level of protein S in their plasma. Plasma is depleted of protein S by immunoadsorption with immobilized antiprotein S antibodies. The resultant plasma responds poorly to activated protein C, but is effectively anticoagulated in a dose-dependent fashion upon addition of purified protein S or small quantities of plasma. The affected individuals possess less than 5% protein S activity. Using Laurell rockets, protein S antigen was detected in the plasma but was at reduced levels of 13 and 18% in the two individuals. When the barium eluate of the patient plasma was chromatographed on quaternary aminoethyl Sephadex, a single peak of protein S antigen devoid of protein S anticoagulant cofactor activity was detected early in the chromatogram. In contrast, the barium eluate from normal donors separated into two peaks, one emerging early and also devoid of anticoagulant cofactor, and the second peak with anticoagulant activity emerging later. The first peak of protein S antigen, from both the normal donor and the patient, chromatographed in the region of the complement component C4-binding protein-protein S complex. These studies suggest that protein S deficiency may result in recurrent thrombotic disease.